He inspired me at a time in my life when little else was going my way. But now he’s gone.
I knew Aaron.
This is what I used to say.
Aaron was one of the only black kids at my all boys and almost all white Catholic high school. He was a senior when I was a freshman. But we were separated by more than four years.
What separated us was nothing shy of a dimension. Aaron was a man among men. He was big, fast, strong and handsome. He may have been smart too. I don’t know. Rumor had it he wasn’t. But four out of five were pretty damn good in my world. After all, I was one of the smallest in the school. Slow. Weak. And ugly. But at least I knew that much.
Aaron was the star running back on our school’s football team. We were perennial powers. Best in the Catholic league. And Aaron, in his senior year, was going to lead us to the State football championship. And that was one of the most important things in the world to me. Even though I didn’t play football. Or know anyone who did.
I’m thirteen years old. My mother combs my hair. I have not begun to be a man yet. My grades are substandard at best. But there I am at my first high school assembly, cheering like a seventh grade girl at a concert.
My eyes are locked on Aaron. He sits on the floor with the other men. Men who I’ve watched from afar, parking their jalopies with pride on the school lot reserved for upperclassmen. They wear their uniforms to school. How lucky. Home blues, white numbers with red outlines. The school’s logo on the shoulder. Their names on the back. And the letter “C” patched into Aaron’s front.
“What’s the ‘C’ for?” I ask someone.
Our principle, a Basilian Priest, steps up to the podium and the band stops playing. We begin to pray. About what, I don’t know. About beating our Catholic cross-town all boys, almost all white rivals? About being grateful to go to an elite Catholic high school? I have no idea.
But as he prays, I notice he’s wearing a pin too. I look closer. It’s a picture of Aaron. Then I realize, we’re praying a thanksgiving prayer for Aaron. We are so lucky to have him. The priest finishes, clears his throat and we all shut up as he introduces the coach. Then we explode again.
The coach at least looks like he’s ready. He stands there and soaks up the adulation thrown to his team. He holds a clipboard in his hand and his face has a villainous smile as if he knows the game’s outcome. But I know why he’s really smiling. He knows he’s got Aaron. And Aaron can make anybody a coaching genius.
The first game is under the lights. My mother and father, who pretend to understand the weight of importance this football game bears to me, drop me off. I am by myself. I’m going to meet my friends there. But I don’t have many friends to meet.
And its much too crowded to find them anyway. So I stand alone near the sideline. I look at the cheerleaders. They’re from our sister school. It’s Catholic all girls and almost all white too. And its miles from us. But the girls are beautiful. Women really. And it’s hard to believe that we’re almost the same age.
I look for Aaron. He’s not hard to find. He’s the most natural looking athlete. His uniform custom fit, he walks gracefully in his cleats and stretches like a ballerina in pads. And I can’t wait to watch him run.
Aaron doesn’t run, actually. He explodes. His legs are pistons. His shoulders, anvils. He’s triple jointed and he has a gazelle’s speed. He runs away from defenders as easily as he runs through them. He punishes the defense one play, mocks it the next.
And deep inside I want to be Aaron. I want to possess that kind of speed and power so I can abuse it. I want those cheerleaders to know my name. I want the Basilian priest principle to wear my pin. And I want my mom and dad to come to a game and see the son they created was not done so in vain. I want all to know that there is a purpose in my existence. And they will know that purpose when I stand in the end zone humbly after a score and hand the referee the football.